Alternative Approach : Health And Survival Not a Matter of Chance

Chicago Daily Herald


Can the food we eat keep cancer from recurring?

Although there is substantial evidence to support the idea that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can prevent cancer, there is less evidence that diet makes a difference in preventing recurrences of cancer.

On one hand, there are those who say that once you have cancer, the benefits of fruits and vegetables diminish. However, others have said that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables might help keep cancer from coming back. One recent medical study sheds some light on this issue.

According to the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer is the third-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Interestingly, the rates of colon cancer for people of Native American, Hispanic and Asian descent are significantly lower than for Caucasians and African-Americans.

One reason for this might be the differences in diets. The typical American diet is rich in red meat, refined grains and processed sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. This makes the body more prone to inflammation, and inflammation is one of the early steps in the development of cancer.

Therefore, diets that are generally anti-inflammatory, such as those that are rich in fruits and vegetables, should have a positive impact on colon cancer.

In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute demonstrated that specific dietary changes after the diagnosis and treatment for stage III colon cancer resulted in fewer recurrences and longer survival. Stage III colon cancer is serious with a relatively high mortality rate. Stage III means that the cancer involves local lymph nodes and other tissues.

In this study, 1,009 patients diagnosed with stage III colon cancer were treated with both radiation and chemotherapy. After treatment, two major dietary patterns were observed in these patients: a Western-style diet rich in meat, refined grains and sugars and a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and chicken. These patients were followed over five years. There was a significant association between the Western diet and the recurrence of cancer and death.

Those who had adopted a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry had significantly fewer recurrences of the cancer and a significant reduction in death. Although this study was far from conclusive, it strongly suggests that changes in lifestyle might have a significant effect on recurrences of cancer as well as survival.

Over the years, there has been great debate about the role diet plays in the development of cancer and in survival. Some have suggested that 60 percent of all cancer can be eliminated by simple lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and stress reduction. As research in this area continues, I believe we will find that our diet is one of the most important factors in cancer.

Ultimately, the evidence might lead to the conclusion that our survival is a lifestyle choice rather than a roll of the dice.

- Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D., is medical director for alternative and complementary medicine for Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.